Ibsen's Campania: from a doll's house to Ghosts

by Claudia Grillo

Nora: I have to find out who is right, society or me.

H. Ibsen, Doll's House, third act

Henrik Ibsen it was the grain of sand that bothers the morality. A voice that resounds today modern because it was disruptive among the social plots of his time, a time not so distant, if you think about it, but which today appears to us profoundly distant, different, deconstructed in customs, obligations and appearances. And this is also thanks to characters like Ibsen.

When George Bernard Shaw told of the staging in England of one of Ibsen's most famous plays, Doll house, he expressed himself thus: “I rejoiced and watched the ruin e the destruction that this drama brought among idols and the temples of the idealists, like a young war correspondent watching the most unhealthy neighborhoods of a city being bombed ”.

Ibsen's theater is just that: destruction of idols. But what does this have to do with Naples?

From Norway to Italy

Born and raised in the Norwegian town of Skien, Henrik Ibsen lived and wrote extensively outside Norway. He frequented Italy a lot: he lived for years with his wife and son a Rome, where he moved for the first time in June 1864 and where he composed Brand, script published in Norway in 1866, which earned its author theprerogative of an artist.

Between Ischia and Sorrento: Peer Gynt

In May of 1867 he decided to move further south, along the sunny ones Campania coasts. He lived first in Ischia, where he stayed in Villa Pisani, called today precisely Ibsen house, and a few months later, in August, he moved to Sorrento. In this period, immersed in a methodical work and industrious, but without missing some walk on the sea, Ibsen wrote the play Peer Gynt.

The friend Jörgen Vilhem Bergsøe, also a writer, who also came down from northern Europe to enjoy the beautiful, hot and salty climate of the Sorrento peninsula, he wrote that with Ibsen he used to take the carriage to get to a pine forest in the area of Massa Lubrense. Here the two stopped to walk and admire the view: the sea, the profile of Capri and the Neapolitan gulf on the horizon.

Ibsen in Amalfi: Doll house

Ibsen returned to Italy again, for longer this time: between 1878 and 1885. In June of '79, while he was in Rome, he wrote thus in one letter:

 “It is quite hot in Rome now, so within a week we will go to Amalfi which, being close to the sea, is cooler, and offers the opportunity to go to the sea. I intend to complete one there new dramatic work in which I am now deeply immersed (…). Down to Amalfi, where it used to be a monastery with large rooms, there is now a inn, and that's where I want to stay ".

This Amalfi monastery it is a former 13th century Franciscan convent, converted into a historic hotel with the name Hotel Luna Convento. Ibsen lodged here, in a room overlooking the sea, and the new dramatic work he mentions is House of doll.

Nora: an Ibsenian woman

Doll house is one slice of bourgeois life in three acts, a glimpse into the normal married life of Helmer, gentlemen. He a good and successful man, just appointed bank manager and she, Nora, “A foiled and delightful siskin”, as her husband defines her, a person who lives to be wife charming and mother thoughtful, but nothing more. A habit to decorate the house, a singing bird in a cage, but nothing more.

With his frivolous, almost childlike gaiety, however, Nora mask one steadfast spirit and audacious that pushes her to intervene as well save her husband from a bad illness, to get the money to take him to the south, in Italy, a Capri. Nora that for this his error, for having meddled in affairs that, as a woman, do not belong to her, risks losing the good name of her family, of her husband, Nora who is ready for anything, even at suicide, Nora who will discover that she is a human creature, independent e autonomous like any man.

Capri and Nora's tarantella

In all this, the beautiful island of Capri it acts as a distant and imaginary background. It is the place where the husband recovers his health and where Nora manages to arrive relying only on her strength, it is the place where, perhaps in more peaceful times, the family can return to enjoy the sea. But it is also the place where he bought his beautiful dressed as a Neapolitan fisherwoman and where he learned the tarantella who will dance when she is convinced that she is near the end and that dance will be for her the last, extreme act of life.

Thus, during rehearsals, the tarantella Nora's is a nervous dance, hectic, desperate. “Without this fearful fury! - says her husband looking at her - Be my dear little lark again ”. But in the moment of the real performance, perhaps for an extreme shot of lucidity, the tarantella takes charge of his own vitality, Of passion bold, of sensuality, and this contrast strikes the reader as a furious bow hits and screeches on the taut strings of a violin.

Ghosts in Sorrento

Between June and November 1881 Ibsen returned to Sorrento and stayed at theImperial Hotel Tramontano. In the memorial book of the hotel he writes as follows: "What an enchantment this land, everything flourishes delightfully! ... Sorrento is dear to me as a second home !!"

He was writing Ghosts, a play that is somewhat in continuity with Doll house, which is its intellectual sequel, more mature, more complex, more extreme. Who knows, maybe Ibsen he was sitting at the desk of his room, he watched the Sorrento sea from the window and his mind was carried away in his Norway, to his real life, far from that enchanted land. Like this, the clear and luminous blue of the panorama was transformed into “the gloomy fjord landscape wrapped in a monotonous and incessant rain ": the exterior that is the background to the drama of the Alving family in Ghosts.

The Sun of Italy, of Sorrento, is once again the distant image of the joy of life. So he says Osvald, a character in which we read a lot about Ibsen, about his relationship with art:

"And then also this time, this rain that never ends, that is capable of going on for weeks, for months ... a ray of sunshine one can dream of, what do I say, every time I have come here at home I don't I remember ever seeing a ray of sunshine, not even one ... "

Osvald from the stage thinks of Paris, Ibsen had to think of Sorrento. And just that distant sun, imagined only, it rises dramatically in the last act through Osvald's voice, which when the curtain closes invokes in a whisper: "The sun, the sun ..."

Claudia Grillo

Henrik Ibsen, Doll house, Mondadori, 2019, translated by E. Pocar

Henrik Ibsen, Ghosts, Garzanti, 2019, translated by C. Magris

Luigina de Vito, Henrik Ibsen in Sorrento, The land of the sirens, 2007, n. 26, pp. 15-28

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